Irishman Mark Downey, in his final year as an U23, got his road season off to a flier, finishing outside the top ten on just one occasion from his first eight race days. After a break from the road to race on the track for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games, Mark has returned to racing and is currently in action at the U23 Giro d’Italia.
A few days before the race started, U23 Cycling Zone caught up with Mark to talk about his season so far, as well as what it to come for the dual-discipline athlete.
“I would describe my season as nearly good – I’ve came so close a lot of times to big results but just haven’t finished it off quite right. I am happy with how it has went so far, it’s been positive and a lot better than previous years, I just need to build on it.”
Mark has done an amazing job balancing the track and the road in recent months, and with the track being a discipline that takes place towards the back end of the road season, Mark was flying out of the blocks, taking 4th in a Portuguese one-day race, before adding 3rd overall in the Volta ao Alentejo, as well as the best young rider’s jersey. Mark spoke a little about the balancing act between the road and track.
“I train a lot on road for the track because I’m only a points and Madison rider- it’s a lot of endurance work mixed with speed. If I was to focus more on timed events, I would have a lot more track work to do. But I prefer to do what I’m doing, it’s a good way to get stronger over the winter. When it’s an event with priority, I turn my focus towards it. I think that’s a big thing. When you have a big race coming up, not only just training for it, but I try to mentally prepare for what’s coming up, that helps a lot I find.”
And it doesn’t look like the burden on Mark’s shoulder of balancing the two disciplines will ease over the coming seasons, as he now turns his head towards the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, where the Madison has returned.
“Tokyo is a really big objective of mine now that Madison has been added to it. It’s a race in which I find I’m learning every time I race and it’s a race that suits my riding style, super hard for an hour with a little recovery every now and then. It’s going to be difficult now as in the summer I will have to go to some more outdoor track races to make sure we are in a good points situation for the World Cups, which go toward Olympic qualifications. Everyone will be at every small race and it just makes it that wee bit harder to get points that normally would have been easier to get.”
Mark was clearly in great shape at the Commonwealth Games, as despite his exploits on the track, he not only had enough to once more in the road race, he made the front group and sprinted to fourth place. At just 21, this was a really nice result, but Mark is still not sure how he feels about his Gold Coast road race.
“I’m still on the fence about that result, some days I look back and say what a great ride I did that day, other times I say ‘flip why didn’t I just go that little bit harder’. The fact is I left everything I had out there that day and could do no more. The games road race was just me racing on pure emotion. I felt I had been hard done by after crashing hard on the track. I was so angry the whole week before the race, I just remember texting my brother and he said ‘bring the anger to the start line for the road race and use it’. That’s what I did. When I look at the result sheet and the age of the guys I was racing with that day, I’m in very good company and was making a name for myself. It was a positive step in the right direction for my career and for that, I have to be happy.”
Mark has already excelled in his career at stage races, time trials and one-day events. The Irishman, who possesses an enviably fast sprint, confirmed what we already thought: as long as the terrain is lumpy, the parcours will suit Downey.
“I like hard, rolling terrain, whether it be a one-day or a week-long stage race. The Tour de Bretagne-like terrain, when it’s been hard all day and you hit some short steep hills in the last hour to really sort the race out, I love that. But I do prefer stage racing to one day classics really – I used to be a good time trialist but now the track takes up my extra time so I don’t get to focus on it as much. Maybe when I get the time, I could be a stage race rider.”
Mark then went on to divulge some more of his calendar for us, where he will race another massive U23 stage race after the U23 Giro, pending national team selection. He also hopes to be on the startline in Austria for the U23 Worlds, after taking 9th in the Bergen race last season.
“At the minute, I’m just on the bus heading to Barcelona airport to start the U23 Giro d’Italia, in which I hope I can offer a good performance on some of the more rolling days. Then, after that, I will have nationals, Tour de l’Avenir and then hopefully Tour of Britain. Those are the races in which I want to pick up a result in – I will have other races on the road and the track but I hope I can be at my best for those races.”
When discussing the pro race Mark wants to win the most, it is unsurprising that he selected a parcours that is lumpy, yet diverse enough to allow various types of rider to win. However, the finish is a little hard, something which Mark ironically pointed out. For the rest of the season, his main aim is clear: turn those nice results into wins.
“I just want to continue to make good progress and hopefully get my hands in the air at least once in one of the races previously mentioned – I have no set day or race that will be, I will just make sure that I am in as good a shape as possible for all occasions and if a bit of luck will be on my side, you just never know. For some reason, I have fallen in love with Strade Bianche. I just love the character of the race: pretty hard all day and then towards the end proper hard, steep climbs to make the final selection. It would definitely be the one I’d love to win as I just think it has something different to offer and it’s a nice downhill finish too you don’t get that often!” Mark said, ending the interview on a light note.
You can have nothing but respect for a rider like Mark, who balances his love of two disciplines so brilliantly, all the while ensuring his performance in one discipline doesn’t suffer over the other. Whether he decides to go full time on the road or not for the 2021 season is a different story, and it is still a long way away. If he does become a full-time road racer, there is no doubt he will be successful, with that lethal sprint and climbing prowess.
U23 Cycling Zone wishes to thank Mark for taking part in our interview, and we wish him all the best in his upcoming races. We also wish to thanks Wiggins team manager Andrew McQuaid for helping set the interview up. If you want to follow Mark on Twitter (and you should, he posts some interesting stuff), his handle is @MarkDowney03.